From collecting tadpoles to discovering the world’s smallest frog. Little wonder that Indraneil Das is happiest when he is close to Nature, writes Doreena Naeg
IT is not at all surprising that the little boy who emptied his water bottle into the drain to collect tadpoles would be a renowned herpetologist one day.
For Professor Indraneil Das of Unimas, the man who discovered the world’s smallest frog, nature has always been close to his heart. Despite growing up in one of the world’s most densely populated cities, Calcutta, Das had his frequent trips to the park.
“I owe my love of nature to my mother,” says Das, the only son of an engineer and a homemaker. “She made sure we had our regular dose of nature by bringing us to the park.”
It was there that he learnt to appreciate nature and everything that goes with it. It started with the simple curiosity of a child. He would notice and observe every living thing, from creepy crawlies to larger animals.
Das received his early education in India and did his D.Phil. in Animal Ecology at Oxford University. He then joined University Brunei Darussalam for his PhD in 1991, and later left for Harvard University as a Fullbright Fellow.
To many, tadpoles and, for that matter, frogs are to be shunned but for Das, the clammy, croaking ugly looking amphibians hold a beauty that is beyond words.
“They possess intrinsic colours that are beyond anyone’s imagination.”
Far from just dreary colours of black and darkish brown, the amphibians are, in fact, a kaleidoscope of colours if one chooses to look closely enough.
“Most of us are only familiar with the croaking ones but there are a whole lot more of them out there with unique sounds,” he says, adding that some produce an ultrasonic sound that is inaudible to the human ear.
In Borneo, only about 120 species are known and there are many more waiting to be discovered.
His school, Don Bosco School, is a prefect breeding ground for his passion. It has a huge garden where the young Das spent most of his free time examining nature.
“There were many frogs and tadpoles in the drains especially after a heavy rain,” he recalls. Das used to bring them home but his mother never reprimanded him. In fact, she encouraged his interest which sowed the seed of a life-long passion.
That was during the 1970s when there was little research material on natural history except for National Geographic magazines and books, which young Das used to read with passion.
“There is so much to learn. There is never a dull moment. Every day there is a new discovery. Even if it is not a new species, it will be new information on a known species which had eluded researchers.”
While it seems natural that Das would someday do something connected with his passion, he had little idea of his future endeavours at the time.
“I went with the flow,” he says, adding that he wanted to be a zoologist after reading about the famous English author, Gerald Durrell, who owned a zoo.
For Das, working with students is the best thing he could do. He has written 15 books on amphibians and reptiles and is a recipient of many prestigious awards. He has been awarded by World of Herpetologist League, Zoological Society of India and Bounty Books Original Manuscripts Award, among others.
His passion has seen him in many places, including the Andaman and Niobrara Islands where the flora and fauna are as diverse as those in Southeast Asia.